Franciscan

El Dia de los Muertos

PHOTOS AND STORY BY FR. FRANK JASPER, OFM

When the friars told me that Dia de Muertos was a big celebration, I thought they were exaggerating until I saw the delivery of 30-40 Port-O-Lets. Then I realized that this was going to be BIG!

I’d estimate more than 30,000 people came to Mission San Luis Rey in San Diego County for "The Day of the Dead" on Oct. 29. Cars were parked all over the 59-acre mission complex. It was a family affair with no admission and plenty of activities for all. The crowd was mostly Hispanic, but it was very inclusive with a wide diversity that you rarely see in the Midwest. In the early afternoon, the crowd along the main aisle was so tight, you could barely move.

I found the most fascinating and unusual part was the auto show. Beautiful classic cars, polished to perfection, were lined up along the entrance drive. Each had their trunks open with an altar in the trunk commemorating their beloved deceased. That was the unusual part – an altar in the trunk. Parishioners also had the usual large altars set up around the parish church that were more expansive and elaborate. The parish sponsored a "Chalk Cemetery," where they divided the blacktop cemetery road into grids and families could decorate a block with colored chalk to remember their beloved dead. People decorated several hundred blocks with elaborate designs specific for their relatives.

Kids were running all over the place, playing on the inflatable toys, watching the dancers, listening to the live music, getting their faces painted, enjoying special sweet treats and just having a great time. Some had great costumes and enjoyed having people take their pictures. Others polished their bicycles and had them on display, imitating the adults with their cars. Of course, I took plenty of pictures of it all.

Vendors of every kind jammed in front of the mission church. The friars had a booth at which they commemorated the 12 friars who died during the past year, and they talked to young people about vocations. They didn’t throw a habit on any of them, but they did make several initial contacts. Other friars watched the action from the security of the friary balcony.

On Nov. 2, the Feast of All Souls, Pastor Vincent Mesi and Francisco Alejo celebrated a bilingual evening Mass for the deceased. Eight hundred to a thousand people packed the main church. Following the celebration Frs. Vince and Francisco led a procession to the cemetery where people placed candles on the graves of their loved ones, and many of the friars joined them in praying for their deceased and blessing the graves. It was a real testimony to their faith in the resurrection and a beautiful ceremony on this warm evening with a full moon.

(Mission San Luis Rey was a stop in Frank’s sabbatical.)

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